Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Norway – from Explorers and Raiders to Peace Prize Givers

Norway is a peace loving country. In both World War I and World War II, Norway chose to be neutral. Norway, since the 1990s, has played a significant role in the world stage as a facilitator in various peace and reconciliation efforts. This small country invests its time and effort in resolving conflicts to bring about peace. It is a country that stands for peace. Each year, the Nobel Peace Prize Awarding Ceremony is held in its capital city of Oslo.

However, there was a time in Norway’s history when peace was not their main concern. Several hundreds of years ago, the men from Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden and Denmark) boarded long ships as traders, explorers, and settlers and often feared raiders. From 800 AD to 1066 AD, the Vikings ruled the seas and conquered the lands of Europe and beyond.

Explorers and Raiders

The Norwegian Vikings were known to travel westward to Ireland and Britain in their long ships. They also went to Iceland, Greenland and North America. A visit to the Viking Ship Museum in Bygdøy today will attest to this fact. There, on display, is the Oseberg Viking Ship possibly used by Norwegian Vikings to travel far and wide to colonize lands beyond their borders. The Oseberg ship was discovered at the Oseberg farm under a large burial mound between 1904 and 1905. This well preserved Viking ship and its contents must have interesting stories to tell about the Viking age.

The Vikings were influential and powerful. For two centuries, the Vikings from Norway travelled extensively and conducted raids of lands far and wide. It is believed they emigrated because the kings at that time seized most of the land and imposed high taxes on the people. Thus, Scandinavians sought freedom and wealth overseas. Looting and raids became a source of income for some. The raids were said to have stopped in 994 with King Olav.

Although feared by Christian Europeans then, not all Vikings were bloodthirsty plunderers. Some of them were honest traders and merchants who did business with a number of European countries, the Baghdad Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire.

Today, the Viking culture is still celebrated in Norway. There are festivals dedicated to the Vikings and the Viking way of life. Travelers also get the opportunity to live the life of a Viking or at least observe how Vikings supposedly lived many years ago.

Peace Price Givers

Also celebrated in Norway is the Nobel Peace Prize Awarding Ceremony. Swedish born Alfred Nobel, wrote in his will that the Nobel Peace Prize winner was to be chosen by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and that the awarding ceremony be held in Oslo.

Today, the Nobel Peace Prize, which was first given out in 1901, is awarded by five men appointed by the Parliament of Norway (referred to as the Storting). This committee of five is composed of Norwegian nationals, some of whom are possible descendants of Vikings. They are in search of material regarding peace and unity among nations. They are not out to plunder and pillage or cause trouble and strife. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is in search of "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses," as Alfred Nobel himself put it.

The Norwegian Nobel Institute or Det Norske Nobelinstitutt, established in 1904, assists the committee in its task of choosing the Nobel Peace Prize recipient(s) and organizing the yearly event. Located at the center of Oslo, close to both the Royal Palace and the United States Embassy, the Institute is equipped with a library comprised of more than 180 thousand volumes of material related to peace as well as international relations. It also has a research department that organizes research connected to war and peace.

Norway’s history is rich in history, culture, adventure, mystery and peace. This land of Vikings is the land of peace keepers, too; a combination, which makes Norway, a very interesting place to visit.

In Norway, Norwegian, a descendant of the Old Norse Language, is the country’s official language with Nynorsk (New Norwegian) and Bokmål (Book Language) as the written language standards.

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